Equations for Making it

Editorial Note: Each August for the past four years, I’ve asked dance artists at different points in their careers what “making it” means to them. Please join us this month in looking at what “making it” means as a dancer, artist and human.


Early Training: Age 6-18, elementary through high school, Santa Fe, NM


= Trying to make the exact shapes the teacher demonstrated, and failing most of the time

= Ballet or Broadway jazz

= Wearing make-up and push-up bras to dance class

= Trying to be as sexy as possible

= Physical, mental and emotional discipline

= A thing I could do to be away from my shitty family life

≠ Complex inner self-expression

≠ Art

≠ A way to connect to current issues in my life, locally or globally

≠ A soft and supportive learning environment for me to explore all parts of myself

Making it as a Dancer

= Becoming a professional ballerina in a New York City dance company and making my living from dancing

= Becoming a professional dancer on Broadway and making my living from dancing

= Having 180-degree extension and being able to execute triple pirouettes

= Being skinny so male dancers could lift me and I could wear pretty costumes

≠ Becoming a choreographer

≠ Being curvy or queer

≠ Becoming a modern dancer

≠ Having mediocre extension and turn out

Dance Major: Age 19-22, Wesleyan University and studies at Headlong Performance Institute, Tamalpa Institute, Earth Dance, Movement Research, NYC


= Bodywork

= Somatic practice

= Precision of expression

= Performance of identity culture and politics

= Post-modern dance and thought; “Truth and beauty can come from anywhere” –Jill Green

= A mode of research and inquiry

= Bharatanatyam, West African, Contact Improvisation

= Resting

= A way of knowing myself and sharing myself

= Choreography

= Any and all body shapes

= Any and all experience in ballet training

= Any and all gender representations

= A way to access the natural world

= Spirituality

≠ A harmful activity to my self-esteem

≠ Competition

≠ Trying to make the exact shapes the teacher demonstrated

≠ A hierarchy of those with the funds to train in ballet on top and those who do not on the bottom

≠ A system of elimination and exclusivity with regards to body size, gender, sexuality and skin color

Making it as a dancer/dance-maker

= Being an excellent collaborator, i.e. listener, improviser, problem-solver and risk-taker

= Endeavoring to create dances that help create the world I want to live in

= Generating material first, then editing it

= Being brave

= A wide range of vocabulary encompassing dance, theater, music, visual art, science, anthropology, astronomy, astrology, poetry, politics, gender and race

= Learning to give and receive critical feedback

= Endeavoring to dance inside my own sexiness/power/womanhood

= Inspiring strength and challenge in my collaborators

= Learning the legacy of the artists upon whose shoulders I stand

= Learning technical theater skills, time management and marketing

≠ Putting others down

≠ Copying work that has been previously made, especially if said work recapitulates oppression

≠ Creating work without commentary and craft

≠ One thing

≠ Monetary exchange

≠ Auditioning and being accepted into a major dance company

Working in the Field: Age 22-27, arts administrator at CounterPULSE; founder of the curatorial platform and dance collective GROUND SERIES; dance teacher at Oakland International High School; dance teacher, administrator, choreographer and producer at New Mexico School for the Arts Charter High School, Bay Area, CA and Santa Fe, NM


= Choreographer

= Producer

= Web designer

= Grant writer

= An ally to young people

= Curriculum designer

= Offering release technique, floor work and somatic movement to ballet trained high school students

= 10 original GROUND SERIES dance works

= Meetings

= Stretching in my living room

= Performing on a street median

= Making films

= Emails

= Teaching the history of institutional oppression to high school students

= Sharing my experience and learning from others

= Teaching young dancers that dance can be a powerful and complex way to express that which is important to them

≠ Taking regular technique classes

≠ Teaching kids that dance is only one thing

≠ Teaching girls their bodies are not right for dance

≠ Teaching girls and boys “No pain, no gain”

≠ Teaching students that dance is about trying to make the exact shapes the teacher demonstrates

Making it as a dancer/dance-maker/dance-teacher

= Getting paid to work in my field

= Getting paid to teach dance

= Getting paid to produce dance

= Getting health benefits while working in my field

= Creating and producing two to five dance works a year

= Earning fiscal sponsorship from Fractured Atlas

= Attracting hundreds of audience members to my work

= Finding and cementing relationships with my creative partners

= Performing all over the country

= Building three dance websites

= Receiving press for my work

= Creating a community of students, collaborators and audience members with whom I can be my best self/best artist

≠ Living in New York

≠ Going to auditions

≠ Trying to meet the right people at the right time and place

≠ Making my entire income solely from dance

≠ Having 180 extensions and triple turns

≠ Feeling like I haven’t made it

Making it 2016 Sarah Ashkin


Sarah Ashkin was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is a co-founder of GROUND SERIES – a curatorial platform and dance collective. She recently completed her tenure as a faculty member and administrator in the dance department at New Mexico School for the Arts. She attended Wesleyan University where she earned a double degree in dance performance & composition and environmental studies. She also holds a certificate in hybrid performance studies from Headlong Performance Institute in Philadelphia.  She has received specialized training in embodiment for teens, site specific choreography, solo composition, The Anna Halprin Life-Art Process, and dance as ethnography. Sarah is attending graduate school at the University of Roehampton in London this coming fall 2016 to pursue a Masters’ degree in dance, politics and sociology.